National Flag Of Montserrat

Amerindian Inhabitants of Montserrat

Compiled by William G. Innanen with parenthetical comments by the author -Bill. ©1998 William G. Innanen.

The native Americans came up the chain of the Lesser Antilles from the vicinity of Venezuela. The oldest artifacts found on the island date from 500 BCE to 500 CE. The earliest occupation on the island seems to be an encampment at Trant's which dates from about 200 CE and was apparently an encampment of the Arawak people.

(See map) They may have been preceded by a less culturally advanced people known as the Ciboneys, of which there is no confirmed trace on Montserrat. Sometime before Columbus sailed through Montserratian waters in 1493, the Arawak people had been driven out/conquered/absorbed by the more war-like Caribs.

Exactly when this occurred is not certain, but it must have been of living memory Columbus, since a native he had on board informed him that the Caribs had depopulated the island. One reason he didn't bother to land, I guess.

There are 5 sites (see map) that have been identified as being native American encampments. It's not clear whether they are Arawak, Carib or both. From the artifacts and debris left, it is clear that the natives raised crops, created various artifacts and craft items, worshiped their gods (ancestor and nature worship, evidently) and buried their dead. All of the sites share a common set of topographic features.

They are near the coast, on arable land, near rivers, and are at low elevations with easy access to the sea. The photo shows a typical Carib dwelling and dugout canoe, that is exhibited in the museum at St. John's, Antigua. [No, the lodge is not a "Humpback Whale" despite what the sign says! The whale model is hanging from the ceiling out of the camera frame. -Bill]

The Carib people provided the first recorded name for Montserrat, namely "Alliouagana." This is believed to mean "land of the prickly bush." [Having tramped around the north end of the island, off the beaten tracks, I can attest to the appropriateness of this name! -Bill]

Although the island had no native inhabitants when it was initially settled, in 1632, the war-like Caribs continued to make their presence known for 5 decades, making periodic raids on the island and the colonists. In 1650 one such raid was recorded by the Irish missionary , Father John, Stritch.

He was administering the sacraments to Catholics in the woods when the war party hit the colony, burning houses, killing people and looting shops. Although he was very sympathetic to the plight of the Catholics, this did not extend this sympathy to the Caribs, who he referred to as "savages." The Caribs, on the other hand, considered that the English had stolen their island, and were trying to get it back.

The original source of this document can be found here